By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
— 10 —
Tom woke with a start. Late afternoon dust motes were swirling in the sunbeam coming through the drapes. Soft murmurs told him the others were in one of the bedrooms, so he pushed off the afghan and struggled out of his recliner feeling every step of the sixty miles to Montgomery and back.
Half-way across the back yard he heard the creak-slap of the screen and turned around as Jeremiah pounded up.
“Where you goin’ Mr. Lewis?” Jeremiah panted.
“To see a man about a horse,” Tom said. “What’s got you in such a hurry?”
Jeremiah looked at the ground, “I wanted to ask you a question.”
“So ask,” said Tom resuming his walk toward the jake.
When no question came, Tom stopped and looked at him. “What’s on your mind Jeremiah?”
Jeremiah looked at the ground, “Are you my daddy now?”
“That’s an interesting question,” Tom scratched his head. “Why do you ask?”
“Mamma’s sleepin’ in your bed now,” Jeremiah looked up at him sideways. “Isn’t that what grownups do when…?”
“Hmph. I never thought about it,” Tom scratched his chin. “Since it’s just us men, I’ve got to tend my business, but we can still talk.” Tom started walking again with Jeremiah following along. “Why don’t you tell me about your real daddy,” Tom said as he opened the outhouse door and went inside.
Jeremiah stood outside dragging the toe if his shoe in the dirt, “I don’t know much. Mamma told me after Caroline was born, Daddy went to the store and was in a car wreck.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Tom’s voice was muffled by the walls. “What happened after that?”
“Mamma was real sad for a long time. Then she decided she had to get a job, so she went to school to be a teacher.” Jeremiah said. “That’s kinda funny isn’t it Mr. Lewis? Goin’ to school to be a teacher?”
“It is funny to think about it that way,” Tom chuckled as he came out of the jake, “but being a teacher isn’t an easy job if you do it well. So what happened after that?”
“When Caroline was old enough to go to school, Mamma got a job and we all went to school together,” Jeremiah followed Tom back toward the house.
Tom stopped at the pump, “Get the water for me?” As Jeremiah worked the handle Tom continued, “Your daddy sounds like a decent man, and I could never replace him. He’s yours and you should keep his memory special.” Tom stepped back from the pump and shook the water off his hands, “That’s enough.” Jeremiah stopped pumping and they waited a few moments for the pump to trickle dry before Tom picked up the catch basin and scattered the water across the lawn.
“Getting back to your original question,” Tom paused outside the screen door. “I can’t say what might happen in the future, but I would be honored to be your friend while we sort it out. Will that be enough?” At Jeremiah’s nod, Tom opened the door and they went inside.
Emma came in from the living room, “What were you two talking about for so long?”
“Man stuff,” Tom said with a wink to Jeremiah.
“You hungry?” Emma asked.
“I ought to be,” Tom pulled out a chair. “That was a long walk.”
Emma opened a cabinet, “Will dump soup be OK?”
“Dump soup?” Tom sounded skeptical.
“You open some cans, and dump them in the same pot,” Emma said.
“So, Dump Soup. Makes perfect sense,” Tom finished for her. “Sure. Let’s give it a try.”
As Emma busied herself with the can opener, Tom spoke to her back. “Jeremiah was trying to find out if my intentions toward you were honorable.”
“He what?!” Emma turned to look at him astonished. “You’re not kidding are you?”
Tom shook his head, “You have a fine son Emma. I’d forgotten what a hoot kids can be.”
“Do you have any kids?” Tom’s face made her wish she could take the question back. “I’m sorry…”
Tom sighed, “Don’t be. Miriam, my wife, and I had two girls.”
“Your wife’s picture is on the mantel piece?” Emma turned back to stir the soup.
“That’s Miriam,” Toms said. “She passed five years ago.”
“Your girls?” Emma asked over her shoulder.
“No idea,” Tom said sadly. “We grew ’em up. They decided to go away to school, and they just never came back.”
“I’m sorry,” Emma said. “I was wrong to ask. When I only saw Miriam’s picture, I didn’t think…”
“No harm done,” Tom assured her. “You had no way to know. Jeremiah told me a little about his father.”
Emma turned back to the pot of soup, “He told you it was a car accident?”
“That’s what he said,” Tom straightened as Emma ladled soup into a bowl and presented it to him. “You’re not having any?”
“We had supper a couple of hours ago,” Emma slid out the chair across from Tom and sat. “While you were asleep.”
The soup was tasty. Beans, corn, diced tomatoes, and green chilies with the water from the cans. Tom spooned some up, “Fine soup.”
“Thanks. It’s hard to cook just enough to go around, since we can’t store leftovers,” Emma said thoughtfully. “What’s going to happen Tom?”
“Wish I knew,” another spoon of soup. “No TV or radio broadcasts. No electricity means no water, sewer, or fuel. Blocked bridges limit mobility.”
Emma fidgeted with a pencil the kids left on the table, “But why round people up?”
“Volksturm,” Tom replied.
“Volks-what?” Emma asked.
“Loosely translated, ‘People’s storm’,” Tom explained. “Near the end of World War II, as everything was collapsing and the Russians were closing in on Berlin, the Nazis started drafting just about anyone big enough to carry a gun. Old men and little boys between twelve and sixty were rounded up and sent to reinforce the Army.”
Emma pursed her lips, “You think we’re at war?”